In a powerfully written dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized the thinking of some of her fellow justices after the court dismissed a case involving a police officer fatally shooting a fleeing suspect in Texas.
According to Sotomayor, it was a case of “shoot first, think later.”
On Monday, the court dismissed a case involving the 2010 shooting death of Israel Leija, Jr. during a high speed police chase in Texas, reports NBC News.
During the chase — at speeds up to 110 miles per hour — Leija repeatedly called police on his cellphone and warned them that he had a gun and would shoot police officers if they failed to call off the pursuit.
After police set up tire spikes to slow down the car, State Trooper Chadrin Mullenix of the Texas Department of Public Safety decided to disable the car by shooting at it, but was told by his supervisor to stand by to see if the spikes worked first.
Mullenix disregarded his instructions and fired at the speeding car from an overpass, causing the driver to lose control and the vehicle to roll over before reaching the spikes. An autopsy revealed that four of the six shots Mullenix fired at the car had hit Leija instead, killing him.
According to an unsigned opinion from the court, the doctrine of police immunity in shootings protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law,” and that the use of deadly force during a dangerous car chase has never previously been held to be a constitutional violation.
In her dissent, Sotomayor stated that officers near the spike strips were not in danger, as Mullenix stated afterward, and that the courts’ decision to toss the case continues a bad precedent.
“By sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing, the Court renders protections of the Fourth Amendment hollow,” the Justice wrote.
She added that Mullenix “fired six rounds in the dark at a car traveling 85 miles per hour. He did so without any training in that tactic, against the wait order of his superior officers, and less than a second before the car hit spike strips deployed to stop it.”
The decision on the Texas case comes in the wake of multiple police shootings across the country of suspects — both armed and unarmed — and serves as an indication of how they may be adjudicated should those cases make it to the highest court.